Compliance Management, Privacy

Symantec CEO Thompson shortlisted for commerce secretary

John Thompson, who is set to retire in April as Symantec's CEO, is a front-runner to be named the next commerce secretary, the last vacancy in President-elect Barack Obama's prospective cabinet.

News agency Reuters reported this week that Thompson is on a short list, with one other unidentified contender, under consideration by the Obama transition team to be named commerce secretary.

Thompson currently is chairman and CEO of Symantec, the security giant best known to consumers for its Norton product line, but has announced his plans to retire in April and pass the torch to Chief Operating Officer Enrique Salem.

“John Thompson has always been a successful businessman,” John Pescatore, Gartner vice president and research fellow, told in an email on Friday. “I think he has also been adept of working with the government and I think he understands how government works. So, I think he would make a pretty good commerce secretary.”

Symantec spokesman Cris Paden said in an email message to on Friday that Thompson's political activities have always been personal in nature, separate from his work with Symantec.

“As a result, I don't have any information on what's going on," he said.

Paden, though, told Reuters that Thompson has had talks with the Obama transition team, but would not verify whether he was under consideration for any government post.

The position leads the U.S. Department of Commerce, which deals with business and industry matters. Its mission is "to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce.” The current commerce secretary is Carlos Gutierrez.

In addition to promoting trade and industry, the department, through its various bureaus, conducts the census, maintains standards of weights and measures, and monitors the oceans and atmosphere. The department has a number of intelligence and security functions, ranging from protecting computers against hackers to overseeing exports of suspicious transfers to hostile nations.

One of the entities that the Commerce Department oversees is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency tasked with, among other things, creating information security guidelines.

“Since Commerce is over NIST, if [Thompson] were appointed it would likely be a good thing for NIST's budget in information security and in NIST regaining some of the authority it lost to [the Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency] -- another good thing,” said Pescatore.

Bill Richardson, a former contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, was Obama's original pick for the post. But the New Mexico governor was forced to withdraw his name from consideration in early January because of an impending investigation into whether his administration gave lucrative contracts to a political donor.

The Obama administration has taken a strong advocacy position on internet, technology and critical infrastructure initiatives.

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